We continue with the questions.
God will eventually reward those who live the true faith.
God does not reward anybody for anything.
Some people find volunteer work very rewarding.
All people find dangerous sports rewarding.
This question, like many others, belies Harris’s ignorance of Christianity. Did he not know—how could he have failed to know?—that different branches of Christianity answer this first question very differently? And I don’t mean in some fine, technical, theological sense. I mean there are loud, plain-as-day disputes about these questions. Many evangelists say all that is needed is to be born again and thou art saved. Catholics say not hardly. Christians might slow down to consider what these question mean.
Here, even stronger than before, the first “neutral” question is correlated with Christian belief. And the fourth question is ambiguous: what does “rewarding” mean? That which does not kill us, etc.? Does “all people” mean “all people” or “all people who attempt dangerous sports”?
Some neutral questions are anything but ambiguous, correlated or not. Question 25, which Harris expects all will say “false” to: “Shakespeare is never mentioned in college or high school.” Now I, sadly, have had students for whom this is true. They must also say “false” to Question 24: “Human beings have complete control over the environment and can grow food anywhere” which some college students might say is true. Remember, there is not a lot of time for reflection on these questions.
I don’t want to go on and on, but almost every black-and-white question Harris uses breaks into shades of gray; the answers are at least not unambiguously true or false to all Christians or non-Christians. Question 56 asks, “A firm religious faith is the most reliable source of happiness.” Some non-Christians might agree with this, against Harris’s expectations. Question 55, “The universe is governed by natural laws that have nothing to do with God” and Question 20, “We can understand the universe without any notion of God.” Deists agree with these.
Question 47, “Humans emerged through a gradual process of evolution like every other species,” and Question 26, “Humans are a product of the natural world, just like all other animals.” Harris, revealing his ignorance of Christianity yet again, expects that all Christians will answer “false.” Most mainline Protestants and Catholics—even the majority of evangelists—would answer “true.”
Question 45: “The most profound truths are to be found in the Bible” is a statement with which some non-believers might agree (“When I became a man, I put away childish things”; “The guilty flee where no man pursueth”). Question 42: “Sin came into the world with the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden” which again shows Harris has no appreciation for different kinds of Christianity. He is not aware that many Christians view the Bible figuratively. This also leads some Christians to agree with Q2: “The Bible is full of fictional stories and contains historical errors,” even though Harris expects that all Christians will deny this.
Some religious questions are anything but. Q33 says, “Marriage should be a sacred union, exclusively between man and woman.” Did Harris not know that many “mainline” Protestants disagree with this statement? I.e., that some Christians support same-sex “marriage”? Many non-Christians would and do answer, on moral grounds, “true”.
In short, Harris’s views about Christianity seem to have come direct from some atheist handbook. It is obvious that he has not bothered to inform himself about the subject on which he writes. His wording of religious questions is often vituperative, affronting, even hostile (“It is silly to think…”; “People who believe…do so on bad evidence”). The content and character of these questions to a Christian are not symmetric when viewed by non-Christians.
This matters because the symmetry is assumed, because the experiment hinges on the symmetry.
Remember: it is Harris’s stated goal to say what is different about the brains of Christians and non-Christians. It matters not one whit whether Christians are right about what they believe or whether non-Christians are. In this experiment, the Christians are routinely insulted, disparaged, made fun of, teased; they are exposed to challenges of their faith. Later Harris reports on questions he purposely phrased as blasphemous. Were the Christians in this experiment not are apt to grow defensive or at least suspicious when confronted with these questions? And therefore answer at different speeds?
Ignore religion and answer this: do the brains of the affronted and angry operate differently in those heightened states of emotion than in those who are placid, smug, or contented? Could it not be that the “emotion centers” of the brain light up for Christians in this experiment not because they are Christians but because they have just been repeatedly poked by a sharp rhetorical stick?
It is already amazing that this paper was published given that it is so poorly constructed, and even more poorly explained. And we haven’t even got to the actual results, which we do next.